Specter seeks info on intelligence unit
'Able Danger' reportedly spotted Sept. 11 terrorist


By Kimberly Hefling

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the FBI to hand over all information about a secret military intelligence unit that purportedly identified Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Mohamed Atta as a terrorist a year before the terrorism attacks.

Two military officers, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Capt. Scott Philpott, contend that a unit code-named "Able Danger" used data mining -- searching data for patterns -- to identify Atta in 2000. Shaffer has said three other Sept. 11 hijackers were also identified.

In a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asked the agency for "all information and documents it has" on Able Danger, Shaffer, Philpott and any other people linked to the operation. The letter, dated Wednesday and distributed Thursday to reporters, also seeks a meeting between Specter's staff and FBI agent Xanthig Mangum.

A handwritten note at the bottom says, "Bob, I'd like to move head on this ASAP."

Ed Cogswell, an FBI spokesman, said Thursday the FBI is reviewing the matter.

Shaffer claims to have contacted Mangum about setting up a meeting with the FBI to discuss Able Danger findings but was told by military attorneys he could not go because of concerns about the legality of gathering and sharing information on people in the United States, Specter wrote.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Thursday the stories told by Shaffer and Philpott match. But no evidence has been found supporting their claims that any Sept. 11 hijackers were identified by Able Danger, Whitman said.

Shaffer and Philpott have said they made comments to the Sept. 11 commission about Able Danger and its findings, but were not taken seriously. If proven correct, the intelligence would change the timeline for when government officials first learned of Atta's links to al-Qaida.

Their claims were first made public by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

Former commission chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton issued a statement Aug. 12 saying the commission did not obtain enough information on the operation to consider it historically significant.